Nikon D7100 Review
The Nikon D7100 is the new flagship APS-C DSLR from Nikon, following the D7000 introduced almost 3 years ago. While the D7000 remains a capable camera today, the D7100 introduces a new 24 megapixels CMOS sensor without Anti-Alias filter and the 51-point AF system used in Nikon's full-frame DSLRs.
The D7100 boasts professional camera features in an advanced cropped-sensor DSLR using its state-of-the-art high-resolution sensor. This sensor covers an ISO 100 to 25600 sensitivity range while shooting continuously at 6 FPS or capturing full 1080p HD video. The durable magnesium body of the Nikon D7100 includes a large 100% coverage viewfinder and is weather-sealed against dust and moisture.
This digital camera is designed for efficiency with dual control-dials and over two dozen direct controls. The D7100 also emphasizes video as one of its class-leading capabilities with a sophisticated full-time autofocus system, external stereo sound input, headset output jack and video manual controls.
This review covers the D7100 in terms of ergonomics, image quality and performance.
Nikon D7100 Key Features
- 24 Megapixels CMOS sensor
- No Anti-Alias Filter
- 1.5X crop-factor, Nikon DX
- ISO 100-6400 normal sensitivity
- IS 12800-25600 expanded sensitivity
- Customizable Auto ISO
- Built-in Dust-Reduction
- JPEG, RAW or JPEG+RAW Output
- PASM exposure modes with Program-Shift
- 1/8000s-30s Selectable shutter-speed
- Bulb and Timed mode up to 30 minsRequires optional remote
- Exposure-Compensation, ±5, 1/2 or 1/3 EV steps
- Flash-Compensation, -3...+1, 1/2 or 1/3 EV steps
- Matrix (Multi-Segment), Center-Weighed, Average & Spot metering
- AEB, 2-5 Frames, ±3 EVMax ±2 at 5 frames., 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps
- AE, AE & Flash, Flash, WB, ADL Bracketing
- ½ or 1/3 EV Exposure and ISO steps
- Exposure fine-tuning, ±1 EV, 1/6 EV steps
- 51-Point autofocus, 15 cross-type
- Single-Point, Dynamic-Area or Auto focus-point
- Single-Shot, Continuous or Automatic focus-drive
- Face-Detect & Tracking Live-View autofocus
- Optional Autofocus Fine-Tuning
- Optional AF-Assist lamp
- 6 FPS Continuous Drive, Max 100 JPEG or 6 RAW
- Customizable Self-Timer, 1-9 Shots, 2-20s Start Delay, ½-3s Interval
- Quiet-Shutter with delayed mirror-return
- Exposure-Delay, 1-3 seconds
- Multiple-Exposure, 2-3 shots, optional auto gain
- Internal-Timer, 1-9 shots, 1-999 times, 1s-24h interval
- Built-in HDR, 4 blending levels
- Dual IR receivers for remote trigger
- Automatic, Preset, Kelvin and Custom white-balance
- White-Balance fine-tuning, 2-axis, 13-steps
- 6 Built-In Picture Styles
- Automatic or Manual Sharpness, 10 steps
- Automatic or Manual Contrast, 7 steps
- Automatic or Manual Saturation, 7 steps
- Manually Adjustable Hue, 7 steps
- Manually Adjustable Tone-Curve, 3 levels
- Optional High-ISO Noise Reduction, 3 levels
- Optional Long Shutter Noise Reduction
- Optional In-camera Distortion-Correction
- Optional Active D-Lighting (ADL), 4 levels
- 1920x1080 @ 30 FPS 16:9 HD
- 1280x720 @ 60 FPS 16:9 HD
- Contrast-Detect AF
- Quicktime with H.264 codec
- Two compression qualities
- Stereo microphone, 20 levels
- Stereo mini-jack input
- Headset mini-jack output
- Optional sound
- Dual control-dials
- Combined configurable AE-L/AF-L button
- Optional Easy ISO or EC control
- Independent AEB button
- Modal exposure-mode dial
- Modal drive-mode dial
- Customizable Function button
- Customizable DOF-Preview button
- Live-View button with Video switch
- Direct Video-Recording button
- Focus-Point lock
Viewfinder & Displays
- 100% Coverage viewfinder, 0.94X magnification
- 3.2" LCD, 1.2 Megapixels
- Illuminated top LCD status display
- Editable status display on rear LCD
- Single-Axis Digital-Level
- OVF DOF-Preview
- Optional OVF grid
Body & Construction
- Nikon lens mount
- Weather-sealed, resistant to dust and moisture
- Durable magnesium frame
- Metal tripod mount
- Built-in pop-up flash (GN 12)
- Modeling flash
- Wireless Flash control
- Hot-Shoe for external lighting
- Stereo sound-input mini-jack
- Dual SDXC memory card slots
- Proprietary Lithium-Ion battery
- 1080i HDMI output
- USB 2.0 connector
- Optional GPS
Capability - What can it do?
NOTE Given the nearly identical feature set of the D7100 and D7000, this section highlights new functionality. For details on common features, see the Nikon D7000 review. As a high-end DSLR, the D7100 has a rather large number of features, most of them are listed above in the introduction .
The most significant feature compared its predecessor is the higher-resolution 24 MP sensor. With 50% more megapixels, the D7100 can print images 20% larger linearly. The lack of anti-alias filter lets it take advantage of maximum lens sharpness with a higher risk of moire artifacts. Better lenses are required to take advantage of this sensor yet are also more prone to moire.
The D7100 has an upgraded Phase-Detect autofocus sensor with 51-points, 15 of which are cross-type ones. This AF system is sensitive down to -2 EV and offers a denser coverage to better track moving subjects. All AF-points accept maximum apertures of F/5.6 while the center one keeps working down to F/8.
There is now automatic HDR capture with 4 levels of blending images. Video has been enhanced with frame-rates up to 30 FPS at 1080p and 60 FPS at 720p. There are mini-jacks for both a stereo microphone or stereo headset. Bracketing has been improved and the D7100 can capture up to 5 frames with up to a 2 EV increment or 3 frames with up to a 3 EV increment.
The rear LCD is both larger and more detailed than before. It now measures 3.2" diagonally and is made of 1.2 megapixels. Weather-sealing has been upgraded to match that of the D300S and D800. How different it is from the D7000 is unspecified.
A 1.3X crop capture mode is introduced with the D7100. Commonly, full-frame DSLRs allowed a 1.5X crop to operate faster and work with lenses designed uniquely for APS-C sensors. The 1.3X crop on this camera lets it show the equivalent field-of-view of a Four-Thirds sensor, so about 2X compared to full-frame. In this mode, the 51-point autofocus system covers the entire frame while the camera can shoot marginally faster at 7 instead of 6 FPS. Resolution drops to 15 megapixels which is still enough to make relatively large prints.
Ergonomics - How easy is it to handle?
The Nikon D7100 is nearly externally identical to its predecessor. Some controls, notably those for Live-View and Video-Record, have been rearranged and an extra button to invoke the interactive status panel has been added.
This advanced DSLR looks and feels the part. Its traditional shape with a sculpted grip, viewfinder hump and top-mounted popup flash is instantly recognizable. The body is splattered with a high number of dials, buttons and switches. The camera feels very solid. Even the battery and memory compartment doors are quite sturdy. With a quality lens, the D7100 feels relatively heavy for its size.
This camera has a comfortable size and provides an excellent grip with the index finger landing perfectly on the shutter-release and the thumb on the rear control-dial. The shutter-release has a medium amount of travel with a very soft halfway point, making accidental shots a possibility, particularly while using gloves. Lower from the shutter-release, one finds the front control-dial which is easy to reach. The shape of the power-switch interferes slightly in the on-position but barely.
The D7100 has three button at the top of its grip. Close to the outer-edge is the Exposure-Compensation button. Push EC down, turn the rear control-dial and let the button go to set Exposure-Compensation modelessly. This is how all cameras should work. Its short distance from the shutter-release puts this extremely useful control at hand. One can dial ±5 EV of EC in 1/2 or 1/3 increments.
A minuscule Video-Record button finds itself in a premium location behind and to the left of the shutter-release. Since this camera offers a video mode, this button is redundant and unfortunately not customizable. Behind it there is a Metering button which cycles between three settings: Matrix, Center-Weighed and Spot. The center of Center-Weighed metering is customizable between 6mm, 8mm, 10mm, 13mm or the entire-frame.
A status LCD displays information about the camera right from the top-plate. When on, basic status information for exposure, metering, focus, white-balance, image quality, resolution and battery are clearly shown. A flick of the power-switch surrounding the shutter-release turns the backlight on or off. Optionally, the backlit can remain permanently on when the camera is too. When the camera is off, the status LCD shows the number of frames remaining and which memory card is present which is extremely useful despite a slight additional power-drain.
Skipping over the viewfinder hump which hosts a popup flash, hot-shoe and built-in stereo microphone, a self-locking mode-dial stacked above a drive-mode dial is found. Neither dial can be turned without holding down its respective lock, making accidental changes impossible. The mode-dial is fairly traditional with the usual PASM modes plus several custom and automatic exposure-modes, including a separate position for Effects which is added compared to the D7000. Still, nothing there cannot be done better later with Adobe Photoshop.
The drive-mode dial offers typical single-shot, continuous, self-timer and mirror lock-up modes. The self-timer is extremely customizable with a delay between 2 and 20s, 1 to 9 shots and a ½s to 3s between. MLU locks the mirror up first and then takes a shot on the second press. In either case, camera shake is still possible when not using a remote-release. This is solved by the Exposure-Delay mode which sadly remains hidden deep in the custom menu. One can assign it to the My Menu but it would have been immensely better to feature it on the drive-mode dial. Quiet mode allows the mirror to move quietly and delay its return for lower noise albeit slower operation too.
The front of the camera offers two customizable buttons, one typically for DOF-Preview and the other most likely to access the Virtual Horizon which cannot be enabled directly otherwise. A focus switch below the lens release selects between AF and MF. At its center, a button allows the control-dials to control focus. The front dial selects the focus-point selection mode while the rear dial sets the focus-drive.
Higher up, above the lens release, are well-implemented Bracketing and Flash buttons. For bracketing, the front dial sets the increments and the rear dial selects the number of frames. Available values depend on which type of bracketing is being done which is controlled by the Custom menu. For flash, the front dial sets FC between -3 and +1 and the rear one sets the flash mode.
The back of this DSLR is dominated by an extra-large 3.2" LCD with a class-leading 1.2 megapixels. It is surrounded by no less than 9 buttons and two rotating switches, one around the 4-way controller plus OK button, the other around the Live-View button. These controls operate the camera as follows:
- Delete: Prompts for image deletion on first press, deletes on second press. Does not thing in Capture mode.
- Play: Enters or exists Playback mode.
- Menu: Enters or exists the menu system.
- WB/Lock: Selects white-balance in Capture mode, protects images from deletion in Playback mode.
- Qual/Zoom-In: Selects image quality except in Live-View and Playback mode where it zooms in the preview or image, respectively.
- ISO/Zoom-Out: Sets ISO except in Live-View and Playback mode where it zooms out the preview or image, respectively.
- I: Brings up and closes an interactive menu in Capture mode or the Retouch menu in Playback mode.
- Info: Brings up a status display on the rear LCD, except in Live-View where it cycles over display modes.
- AE-L/AF-L: Customizable button which locks exposure, focus or both in Capture mode.
- 4-Way Controller: Navigates the menu system, images or moves the active focus point or area, depending on the mode.
- Lock Switch: Locks or allows the focus point or area to be moved using the 4-way controller.
- Mode Switch: Switches between Still and Video mode in Live-View.
- Live-View: Enters or exists Live-View.
The Nikon D7100's dual controls-dials are underused by default but enabling Easy-ISO fixes this by letting the otherwise unused dial to select the ISO. This means that the dedicated ISO button is only needed for Manual exposure. One of the ISO settings in Auto modes provides automatic ISO sensitivity, just like nearly every digital camera. In PASM modes, Nikon sticks to their tradition of offering an unusual auto ISO interface which lets the user select a base ISO which may be raised to maintain a certain shutter-speed. This is enabled in the menu which makes it hidden an unintuitive.
The rear LCD is extremely sharp and has an anti-reflective coating which provides good visibility in bright and low light. A limited Live-View is available. The display is sadly not Exposure-Priority at all which makes it of limited use. This mode is used as the basis for video. Oddly, aperture is locked at the value when video mode gets engaged, making manual video exposure rather inconvenient.
Despite specifications saying otherwise, there is only one digital-level axis visible in both the viewfinder and Live-View. Neither display is ideal as the one in the viewfinder is dim and hard to see, while the one in Live-View is rather intrusive. The level also needs to be frequently reactivated which is annoying.
Without being perfect, the Nikon D7100 is very well designed and handles extremely well, leaving only some very minor things to complain about. Amateurs of Live-View will be most disappointed, followed by users of the Virtual Horizon. Everybody else will see a camera that puts major controls close-at-hand with an efficient user-interface.
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Ultimately, image-quality makes a camera worth buying. For a digital SLR, image quality greatly depends on the lens used. While color, noise, contrast and exposure are properties of a camera itself, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are properties of the lens. Sharpness depends on the weakest link. So, a camera cannot capture more details than the lens lets through. Conversely, a lens can transmit more details than a sensor can capture.
Images from the Nikon D7100 shows extremely low noise. Up to and including ISO 800, the output is virtually noise-free, even when viewed at 100% which corresponds to a 60" wide print on most monitors. At ISO 1600, noise is barely noticeable. ISO 3200 is where noise becomes apparent yet its impact is minimal on all but the largest prints.
ISO 6400, the highest standard sensitivity, shows obvious image-noise which destroys fine details and reduces maximum print sizes. ISO 12800 is even more noisy but remains usable for mid-size prints. ISO 25600 is very noise and should limited to emergencies only, if it is used at all.
Even when noise-reduction is turned off, the D7100 applies some smoothing, probably at the sensor-level. This means that ISO 800 and above show a gradual loss of sharpness with each stop limiting potential print sizes. It follows the increase of noise quite well, so even if no NR was applies, this digital camera could not make larger prints anyway.
For a camera without an anti-alias filter, the output is unusually soft. The default sharpness of 2 is truly abysmal. Pushing it to 4 yields a great improvement. One could go as far as 5 which introduces some slightly noticeable sharpening artifacts. Anything beyond that is full of halos and inverted contrast edges.
Crucially, image sharpness at 24 MP can be severely limited by the lens. This is clearly the case when using a Nikkor AF-S DX 18-105mm F/3.5-5.6G ED VR which is sold along with the D7100 as kit-lens. The Nikkor AF-S DX 17-55mm F/2.8G ED produces vastly superior results, so be sure to invest sufficient funds into a high-quality lens if you plan on purchasing a D7100.
Dynamic-range of the D7100 is excellent, falling second only to the Pentax K-5 family among APS-C cameras, despite having 50% more megapixels and hence smaller pixels. The default tone-curve of the Neutral Picture-Control is great for preserving dynamic-range in JPEG images making them dull. Contrast can be varied with the usual compromise that it needs to be lowered to capture more dynamic-range.
The D7100 struggles with exposure. Its matrix metering puts considerably too much emphasis on the center of the frame which leads to frequent over-exposure. The same happens with Center-Weighed metering to a lesser extent. Spot and Average metering work just as expected though. This camera over-exposed more often than all but one camera reviewed here which unfortunately cost it a full point for its rating.
Color rendition of this DSLR is good with a slightly warm tone by default. Increasing Hue by 1 corrects this for the most part, delivering relatively natural colors. Saturation is mildly exaggerated in Standard mode but realistic in Neutral.
White-balance is generally good. It handles most situations quite well, save for artificial light in dim lighting. In bright light, colors are mostly well balanced. A slight orange or yellowish tone is occasionally visible but easily corrected with Custom WB.
Operational speed of the D7100 is good. The camera remains responsive under most conditions with only the occasional delay in responding to controls. Its performance is characterized by the following numbers:
- Power On: Instant. Very good.
- Power Off: Just under 1s. Average.
- Autofocus: Below ¼s down to 1s with a slow lens such as the kit one. Highly variable but excellent with a fast lens.
- Focus Confirm: Nearly instant for both autofocus and manual focus. Very good.
- Shutter-lag: Nearly instant followed by extremely short black-out. Class-leading.
- Shot-to-Shot Speed: Roughly ½s. Average.
- Instant Review: About ¾s. Below average.
- Playback Mode: ¾s to enter, ¼s to exit. Average.
This camera features automatic distortion correction based on pre-programmed lens data. Due to the nature of optical distortion, parts of the captured image get cropped, making precise framing impossible. Enabling lens Distortion Correction slows the D7100 down by adding ½s to the Instant Review delay. It also reduces buffer-depth for 6 FPS continuous shooting for JPEG images from 12 to 6.
The 51-point autofocus system used on the D7100 is extremely fast and only appears to be slowed down by slow lenses. When manual focusing, the camera instantly confirms focus. Even when automatically choosing focus-points, this DSLR focuses quickly. Forcing use of the center-point makes AF even faster.
Battery-life is excellent, achieving 950 shots-per-charge according to the CIPA standard. Keep in mind, as usual, that this number accounts for 50% flash use but not video recording and multiple review of images.
The new flagship APS-C DSLR from Nikon delivers an impressive performance for all aspects but one. Image-noise and dynamic-range are top notch, while color, white-balance and sharpness are completely satisfactory, at least with a good lens. Exposure is clearly the weak-point of this camera and, while correctable with the right amount of EC, it is nevertheless highly inconvenient for most photographers.
Its 24 MP sensor without anti-alias filter is easily capable of very large prints of outstanding quality until ISO 400. At ISO 800 to 3200, beautiful prints are still possible just not as large. Even ISO 6400 and 12800 remain usable which is an admirable performance considering the high-resolution of the D7100.
Speed of this DSLR is really good. A few times during playback, the interface can lag slightly the user but rarely in capture mode where it counts. Autofocus speed is particularly quick and improved from its predecessor. The shutter-lag and black-out time are stellar which makes this camera well-suited for action photography.
Two aspects need to be considered when looking into the Nikon D7100. The first is having the budget to equip it with lenses of sufficiently high-quality as to not cripple its performance. The second is the importance of auto exposure accuracy. In fast environments where light and subject change quickly, this will be problematic. Under controlled or constant lighting though, the issue can easily be worked around with little effort.
Nikon D7100 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 24 x 16mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|24 Megapixels DSLR||ISO 100-25600|
|Nikon F Mount|
|Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|1 Axis Digital Level||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Hot-Shoe|
|6 FPS Drive, 100 Images||Stereo audio input|
|1920x1080 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|3.2" LCD 1.2 Megapixels||Secure Digital Extended Capacity x 2|
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